In my last post I wrote about having my “aha moment” with cruising. I think in large part my enjoyment of this trip came from our careful selection of a small cruise line. While I can’t speak much to the contrasts of one fleet of small ship cruise line to another, we were mostly concerned with the difference between Big Ships (Carnival, Royal Caribbean, etc) and Small Ships (Silversea, Seabourne, Windstar, etc). We went with Silversea, and while I don’t have any other cruise experience to compare it to, we loved it. Here’s why we chose to go small or go home:
1. Size Does Matter
Well, duh. Our ship, the Silversea Spirit, holds about 500 passengers. The Big Ships tend to hold 2-3,000. Granted I lived in New York City for four years so I’m no hermit but when I vacation the last thing I want to do is be competing with crowds. 500 people still sounds like a lot, yet many of the crew knew us by name and even the Cruise Director recognized and spoke with us. Best of all? We never had to fight for a pool chair.
2. More to Explore
The length of port times were the most important factor to me. I couldn’t believe when I was reading the Cruise Critic message boards and realized some cruise ships are in port for only a few hours. We were in Santorini and Kusadasi for fifteen hours each! And being there from 8am-11pm meant we could experience dinner, sunsets and even some nightlife. This didn’t really apply to us, but in the Caribbean and on other routes small ships also have the advantage of being able to go to ports that the Big Ships can’t reach.
3. No Kids Allowed
It’s not that I hate children, (I swear, parents-of-kids-I-used-to-babysit!) it’s that I don’t like herds of them. Silversea allows children, of course, but they don’t have a dedicated Kid’s Program, which kept the numbers low and meant I wasn’t battling five year old’s for deck space.
4. Boozing it Up
And here’s the biggest selling point I would guess for most people about the Small Ships: they are all inclusive, meaning booze and tipping is totally included. (Die hard tippers at heart, we ended up using some of our onboard credit to buy snacks and gifts for the maid and butler). Even though
we aren’t my mom isn’t much of a drinker, its still nice not to have to take out your wallet every time you want a strawberry daiquiri. Did I mention that there is 24 hour room service and you can have full size bottles of Absolute vodka delivered to your suite?
5. Sweet Suites
Silversea (and many other comparable lines) have all suite ships. Meaning we didn’t have to upgrade in order to have a balcony, a huge bathroom, and a living room. Our room was 375 square feet! That’s bigger than some NYC apartments.
6. Fancy Food
One cruise ship stereotype is that they have nothing but big buffets filled with mediocre food. We are FAR from foodies, but even we could tell the seven restaurants on the Silver Spirit were nothing short of amazing. When we were feeling casual, we would grab a burger by the pool. When we wanted fancy, we made reservations at one of the gourmet restaurants on board. My absolute favorite was Hot Rocks, a do-it-yourself stone grill restaurant. And we appreciated that the portions were small so you could eat all the courses and sample many dishes, and that we could choose to sit by ourselves or with friends. (Some large cruise lines assign you to a group table).
7. Special Moments
As I wrote about here, Silversea includes a complimentary special experience on each cruise. For us, it was a classical concert in the shadow of one of the world’s great ancient cities. For others, its a clambake on a private Caribbean island. These things make a huge difference.
Unfortunately, (well, fortunately for me ’cause I this trip was my graduation gift from mama!) small cruise lines is synonymous with luxury cruise lines. While we overall loved our experience, there are some downsides:
1. High Cost
Silversea is about 3-4x the cost of a Carnival cruise along the same route. Even for the heaviest of boozers and tippers, it would be hard to justify that you are going to make the expenses even up. You are definitely paying for luxury.
2. High Cost of Extras
While we were surprised to find a free laundry service, free in room movies and tons of other little perks, we were totally blown away by the cost of internet. It was exorbitant, and for computer junkies like us, a necessary evil. The spa was also super pricey, and we probably would not have visited if not for the onboard credit we had to use up (what a burden).
3. High Expectations
When you are paying so dearly for a luxury vacation, you understandably have pretty high expectations. So when it takes 15 minutes to get an iced tea, or your cruise line abandons you during a major taxi strike, you feel a bit miffed. Those same incidents might sting a little less had you gone for the budget option.
4. High… Boredom (For some people)
Big Ships are upping the ante every year with indoor ice skating rinks, huge cast entertainment productions and a enormous casinos. Silversea kept it simple with a spa, a gym with complimentary fitness classes, a nightly lecture or performance, and a healthy schedule of shuffleboard and such. For us, this was perfect after jam-packed port days. For some, it might be… boring. (Though I stand by the expression “Only boring people get bored!”)
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I realize that a luxury cruise is out of reach for many people (myself very much included!) And I’m sure there are others (families, those that want indoor rock climbing walls on their ships) have no interest at all in a smaller line. But I also think there are probably plenty of folks out there with enough cash who shy away because they have the same misconception I did with lumping all cruising together. So whether you’re looking for the splurge of a lifetime or thinking about dipping your toe in cruising for the first time, I highly recommend checking out a small, luxury line. You won’t regret it! And if you want to bring me along, I can totally check my calendar. (Looking at you, Dad).
Too see the rest of our photos at sea, check out my Flickr album here.